SINGAPORE - The root cause of the Dec 8 riot in Little India was not foreign workers' systemic dissatisfaction with employment and living conditions here - and preliminary findings of a new survey of such workers here this year is evidence of this.
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Statement delivered by Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliament
Ministerial Statement on Findings of Committee of Inquiry (COI) on Little India Riot
Madam Speaker, DPM Teo provided the Ministry of Home Affairs' response to the findings and recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Little India Riot on 8 December 2013. I will now respond to the part that touches on the management of the foreign workforce in Singapore.
Cause of Riot
I am glad that the COI has established that the underlying cause of the 8 Dec riot was not systemic dissatisfaction with employment and living conditions in Singapore among foreign workers. I think we can all agree that the process of inquiry was robust and the evidence and testimonials furnished to the COI by non-government organisations, civil society activists, and, more importantly, the foreign workers themselves, helped us see things in a proper perspective.
The COI has also concluded that by and large, we have a good framework in place to protect foreign workers. This includes regular reviews to ensure that legislation is adequate and appropriate. Most Members would be aware that over the last few years, we have enacted a series of legislative changes to the Employment Act, the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act and the Employment Agencies Act to better protect workers.
The COI's findings have also been corroborated by the interim results of another survey conducted after the riot by an independent survey company Nexus Link, and commissioned by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Migrant Workers Centre (MWC). Again, the results are consistent with the COI findings and showed that the vast majority of foreign workers (over 90 per cent) expressed high levels of satisfaction with working in Singapore and planned to continue working here after their current employment stint. Over 80 per cent said that they would recommend Singapore to their friends and relatives as a place for work. Satisfactory pay and working and living conditions were the top three reasons cited for recommending Singapore as a place to work.
In addition to these survey findings, the fact is that over 70 per cent of foreign workers renew their contracts after the first two years. Taken together, these pieces of evidence suggest that the majority of foreigners continue to consider Singapore an attractive place to work. Ultimately, what the foreign workers themselves say and do matters. The COI report puts to rest the more speculative causes for the riot that were offered by some critics, and that were echoed blindly by some sections of the foreign media. These same critics often propagated this, painting a negative picture of our agencies, of Singaporeans, and of Singapore at large to not only just our internal local audience, but to the international audience as well. Significantly, the Indian media, which had a more direct interest in this issue and more access to the workers, on the whole reported responsibly and fairly on the Little India riot. As the Foreign Minister has noted, this incident has not affected our bilateral relations with India.
While the COI has found no evidence of systemic mistreatment of foreign workers, they have pointed out that there might nonetheless be a minority of errant employers who mistreat their workers. I've stated this before in this house: mistreatment does exist. In an earlier statement in Parliament I've also cited the number of egregious cases. While any case should not be tolerated, numbers are exceedingly small. My Ministry treats feedback on mistreatment of workers, whether local or foreign, very seriously, and will investigate such employers. If there is clear evidence that any employers or any other persons have breached the law, we will not hesitate to take the necessary enforcement action. I might add that workers who provide false information - and that occurs as well - must also be held accountable.